The highlight of the closing session was an address by the Dalai Lama
Of course the highlight was the address by the Dalai Lama, who appeared relaxed and genial in his interaction with Prof. (Aunty) Joy Wandin Murphy, a venerated elder of the Wurrunjeri people. He spoke of rational thinking as the antidote to terrorism and warned of the greed and short-sightedness of the global economy. He commented on the alienation of today’s youth and acknowledged the rampant materialism in modern society, cautioning that money cannot buy solutions to any of these problems. To solve emotional problems, we must look to emotions. Peace of mind comes only through our own mental state.
Believers and nonbelievers together make up the totality of human society. We must develop secular ways of promoting love and compassion, acceptable to all. Any religion should accept all others—and none at all. All religions, apart from their differences in philosophy and world-view, bear similar messages of love, compassion, tolerance, and noble conduct. They all have the same potential to bring inner peace.
Their differences are also important and necessary. The Buddha himself taught differing philosophical views; one might say that some of his teachings are contradictory, but that is not so. He did not teach out of any personal confusion but out of the understanding that his followers possessed different dispositions and held differing philosophical positions. He wanted to address each one in a way that could be understood. Difference is the basis of mutual respect and genuine harmony. (Think about it. You can’t produce harmony with only one note.)
The Dalai Lama then exhorted that we all take an active role in responding to the crises confronting our planet. He recalled the pilgrimage to Kanyakumari in December, 1892, where Swami Vivekananda meditated on India’s past, present, and future and was heroically inspired. Nine months later the swami proclaimed his message at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago with a power that continues to resound today. The Dalai Lama spoke of his own visit to Kanyakumari, where he too had a moving experience. Vivekananda’s spirit is still with us, he said. If we can work to bring the religions closer together, we can bring compassion to the planet.
He praised the inclusion of indigenous peoples in the Parliament, saying that those who were the most successful in preserving the earth can share their experiences with the less successful. He underscored the urgency of the climatic and environmental challenges.
His concluding thoughts: After the Parliament, all of you have more ideas. Pay attention to them and put them into action, so that at the next Parliament, you can say more about what you’ve done.
In the best sense of the word, an afterthought is an insight that arises from reflection on something already heard or seen. The wealth of information, knowledge, and wisdom that was so freely given at the Parliament will continue to produce a rich harvest of afterthoughts.
The Parliament and its participants demonstrated the unity of religion underlying the diversity of religions. Some religions like to stress the commonality; others prefer their own uniqueness. Why not listen to them all?
Religion aims at bringing us closer to the ineffable reality at the heart of our experience, which in fleeting glimpses reveals a beauty, a joy, and a love that call us to ennoble ourselves. With that common basis our religions show little disparity of wisdom, whether they belong to indigenous peoples living close to nature or to the group of the great “world” faiths, with their splendid houses of worship, sacred texts, and sophisticated philosophies. All stem from the encounter with that same greater and grander something we label variously as Olodumaré, Brahman, Tao, Ein Sof, Allah, Ik Naam, or God.
At the innermost core of directly experiencing the Divine is its ineffable oneness—of which the world and we who live in it are multiform expressions. Sacredness resides everywhere, awaiting recognition around us and within us.
With an expanded spiritual horizon, we become free from dogmatism. We move beyond the boundaries of any one tradition and can appreciate the divine inspiration in others. What I learn from the teachers of Kabbalah, Ch’an, Lukumi, or any other religion can confirm the views I already hold, enhance them, reveal them in a new light, bring them together in exciting new ways, and challenge me to go deeper still. I welcome that. Coming out of the Melbourne Parliament, I am not quite the same person who went in. And that is a good thing.
As for all the noble intentions of the Parliament, realistically, we will never create a perfect world, but that does not mean we should ever stop trying. We may or may not succeed in effecting positive change to heal the planet, create social justice, or achieve peace, but in the striving we transform ourselves, and that, ultimately, is what religion and spirituality are all about.
DAVID NELSON (Devadatta Kali) is the author of In Praise of the Goddess: The Deviimaahatmya and Its Meaning (2003) and The Veiling Brilliance: A Journey to the Goddess (2006). He is a lecturer at the Vedanta Society of Southern California and speaks at colleges, universities, and churches. He has contributed articles to religious and scholarly journals and is completing a translation and study of the Shwetaashwataropanishad.